Picture it: you’re on your way to a dinner party and you stop to pick up a bottle of wine.
‘It’ll only take a minute,’ you say, trying to convince yourself that this time it’s true.
Then all of a sudden it’s 15 minutes later and you’re still standing in the same spot desperately searching for something to catch your eye – a pretty label, a brand you’ve heard of – anything to make a decision!
Well, I’m here to help. Below you’ll find 10 tips for buying wine that tastes good and fits your budget – win-win (or should I say, wine-wine!).
1. Take some time to learn what types of wine you like
Often whites and rosés are a good entry point and red comes later, but there are many types of varietals and there’s good and bad out there for every type.
If you’re drinking a glass of wine and loving it, check the back of the bottle and memorise its flavour notes, the region the grapes were grown in and the importer. The more you do this, the more confident you’ll be when picking out a new one to try. If you’re not sure how to start branching out from what you’re used to, start by trying varietals similar to the types you already enjoy:
- If you enjoy Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, try Chenin Blank, Fiano and Riesling
- If you enjoy Pinot Noir, try Zinfandel
- If you enjoy Grenache, try Gamay
- If you enjoy Merlot but want more body, try Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz
- If you enjoy Tempranillo, try Sangiovese, Malbec and Nebbiolo
2. Learn how to taste wine properly
Once you’ve poured your wine, take a sip and keep it in your mouth for a moment, then swirl the wine around in your glass to aerate it and take another sip – this is when you’ll really taste the flavour and intensity of the wine, and make a better judgement of how much you like it.
3. Think about what you’re eating
Food makes and breaks wine, so it’s really important to have an idea of what you’ll eat with it. Check out the Food and Wine Pairing Guide at the end of this article for a rough idea of which flavours work well together.
4. Know your regions
The location and climate of where grapes are grown have huge impacts on the flavours and quality of the wine.
5. Organic and preservative-free wines are great for avoiding the next-day hangover! *
*Obviously this depends on how much you intend to drink.
6. Stock up on ‘picnic wines’
Simple, fruit-forward wines are great to stock up on for a lazy Sunday afternoon or relaxed barbeque. These are easy-drinking wines that are pretty much medium across the board in acid, tannin and body, and high in fresh citrus or red fruit flavours.
Grenache, Pinot Grigio, unoaked or minimally oaked Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are all examples of good picnic wines. For a more flavoursome red that is still bright and fresh, opt for a Sangiovese or Nebbiolo and look for lower-alcohol options.
7. A wine’s age doesn’t always indicate its quality
Some bottles are ready to be drunk right away and should be, lest they turn to vinegar sitting on your shelf. Others are great long-term commitments and will only get better with age.
A wine that stakes its reputation solely on the length of age is a bit of a red flag. Leaving grapes to ripen on the vine for longer or holding wine in a barrel for multiple years changes the flavours of the grapes from fresh fruit when just ripened, to overripe or dried, caramelised flavours when aged for longer. Rather than feeling pressure to buy the more aged wine, focus on which type of flavour you’re looking for.
If you want to buy wine for the purpose of ageing it, look for high tannin, high acidity, high alcohol wines as these have the necessary robustness to sit in their bottles for a long period of time.
8. You can buy Australian ‘Champagne’
Even if it isn’t allowed to go by that name, wines made in the Champagne style are common worldwide – and typically cost a lot cheaper than the real stuff. Look for sparkling wine labelled with Traditional Method or Methode Traditionnelle for wines produced using the traditional Champagne method.
9. When choosing wine at a restaurant, don’t choose the second-cheapest bottle on the list
This is usually the bottle that’s been marked up the most because it’s so often selected by those that don’t know how to choose wine, but also don’t want to look stingy by buying the cheapest one! Stay in the mid-price range or ask the server for their recommendation, and you should get something you’ll enjoy.
10. You don’t hate Chardonnay; you just need to buy a more expensive bottle. Trust me.
Chardonnay is the most oaked white wine, and it’s controversial for that reason – it is a bit different from the dry, crisp white wines we all know and love. At the same time, the cheap Chardonnay that likely fuel your dislike of it is typically made using techniques that bring out the worst of all its flavours. Oak barrels are expensive, so a cheap chardonnay is mainly able to get its price point by dropping chips of (usually cheap) oak into the fermenting wine rather than barrelling it properly. Buying a more expensive bottle is a good way to ensure that the wine has been oaked using a more sophisticated process and with high-quality barrels that bring all the flavours together in delicious ways.
If you really hate oak though, unoaked Chardonnay is becoming much more popular and accessible, and is a great option for dipping your toe back in the water – or wine!
11. Put bad wine straight in the fridge
We’ve all been there. You’re hosting a dinner party or a barbeque, and someone brings over a horrible-tasting bottle of wine.
But never fear! Just pop it in the fridge – or in extreme cases, the freezer – for about 15-20 minutes. The cold will hide the wine’s faults and you won’t be able to taste a thing, saving you from bad wine as well as saving your friendship!
Food and Wine Pairing Guide
|Food is:||Makes Wine Taste:||Go for:|
|Sweet e.g. desserts||More dry and bitter, more acidic Less sweet and fruity||Sweet wine – my favourites are Muscat and Tokaji.|
|Umami e.g. miso, mushroom, aged cheeses||More dry and bitter, more acidic Less sweet and fruity||High acid, low texture wines. Sauvignon Blanc and Rieslings are good white options, while in the reds your best bets are Pinot Noir, Gamay and Nebbiolo (Sangiovese’s better-tasting sibling).|
|Salty e.g. chips, pizza, plus anything with extra seasoning||Less dry and bitter, less acidic More fruity, more body||Sparkling wines and high acid whites – think Pinot Grigio/Gris and crisp rosé wines made from Grenache or Sangiovese grapes. If you are craving a red, go for one with a lower alcohol content (less than 12.5%) as salt tends to highlight higher alcohol content by burning your throat.|
|Acidic e.g. seafood, salads with citrus dressings/sauces, Thai food||Less dry and bitter, less acidic More sweet and fruity||High acid whites and rosés, as these won’t be dulled by the acid in the food. Look for bottles with descriptors of blossom, citrus and green fruit notes like apple and pear for a perfect pairing.|
|Highly Flavoured||Overwhelmed by food flavours||Full-bodied wines so that the flavour intensity of the food and wine are equally matched. Often red wines are better suited to this type of food, but if you’re hankering for a white you could try a very oaked Chardonnay.|
|Fatty/Oily e.g. steak, lamb, pork dishes||Less acidic||Full-bodied wine, high acid and high tannin as these will withstand the oils in the meal. Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Malbec are all good choices.|
|Hot (Chili Heat)||Alcohol in the wine is more noticeable, chilli heat is intensified||There are several options here. A light-bodied red like Pinot Noir or Gamay works well after being chilled for about 15min, as the cold will soften any textural notes that could aggravate the chilli heat in the dish. Alternatively, contrast the spicy flavour with a sweet or off-dry white wine like Gewürztraminer.|